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Money given to low-income mothers affects their infants’ brain activity, a study shows

Philadelphia Inquirer

January 26, 2022

Infants in low-income families demonstrated elevated levels of brain activity after their mothers were given infusions of cash that made life easier, a national study shows.

The work, conducted by scholars from six universities across the United States, is “an important finding,” according to Martha Farah, director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania. She was a peer reviewer of the study. “This is the first time that changing family income has been shown to impact child brain activity.”

The study comes at a time when the federal government’s expansion of the child tax credit (CTC), which kept millions of families out of poverty, has expired with Congress showing little interest in allowing it to continue.

Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health, and a national expert on child poverty, said scientists having to use brain scans to demonstrate poverty’s deleterious effects on kids is “sad.”

She added: “How many millions of dollars of research does it take to prove the obvious — that parents of young children need time and financial supports to help their children grow and flourish? Do we really need expensive brain scans to tell us what to do?”

Existing government help isn’t enough, she said, adding: “This is not revolutionary; this is not rocket science. Mothers have known this since time immemorial: Families need their community to help pitch in to raise a child.”

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